I did it. It’s done. I finished my doctorate. On Friday I gave my exit talk so I am now officially SeamstressErin Ph.D. After 7 long years, I can shout to the world that I am doctor! I have worked long and hard and am shouting to the rooftops my accomplishment because I am so dang proud of myself. I want to take the chance to reflect a bit on my journey and, of course, share the dress that I made for the occasion. In the sweet words of my fiance, “Who else do you know who both: 1) has a PHD in molecular biology, 2) gave her exit talk in a dress she made the night before?”
I’ve grown in so many ways over the last 7 years. Of course I’ve developed as an academic and a scientist. Graduate school is not easy for anyone. I had a particularly rough go of it for many reasons, including the fact that I figured out in my 2nd year of school that I did not want to pursue a career as an academic scientist. I found aspects of being a scientist that I liked (i.e. teaching) and excelled at (i.e. writing). But the day-in-day-out task of bench work? I hated it. A lot of success in academic research is about luck – whether a project pans out or an experimental system works can’t be known before actually trying the experiment. Unfortunately, I got unlucky a few times and had to throw my entire project in the trash and start from scratch – a disheartening process at best. Additionally, the only real metric of success is a publication, and I need more regular validation than a single paper every 3-5 years. There were many, many days that I cried on my way into lab. There were many, many days that I seriously considered dropping out. But I didn’t. And for that, I am very proud of myself.
Of course I went through a lot of personal growth as well – those 7 years span the majority of my 20’s, after all. I overcame health challenges – both mental and physical. My mom went through a major health crisis and I struggled with being so far away. I went through untold numbers of dates, several boyfriends (and ensuing breakups), and finally met the man of my dreams to whom I am now engaged. I said goodbye to two cats that were my closest companions for many years. I made some amazing friends and drifted away from others. I drove a scooter for a few years. I lived in three apartments in San Francisco – I shared a place in Twin Peaks with an unstable roommate, lived alone in a studio on Market at Guerrero, and moved into Noe Valley with my boyfriend turned fiancé.
Through all of this, sewing (and other crafty ventures) has been a major force keeping me sane. When times were tough, I would lock myself in my little sewing room and not come out until I felt more centered. The act of creation is so satisfying, grounding, and centering. I love being able to hold something in my hands, wear something on my body, hang something on my wall as say “See that? I made that. It was an idea and now it exists.”
I’ve learned a lot about sewing over the years as well. Seven years ago I mostly made costumes. I got into upcycling skirts from jeans that I rescued from the thrift store and sold them on Etsy and at local fairs for a while, but it reached the point where I felt like a factory and it didn’t feel creative (and I ran out of storage room in my tiny studio apartment). I started sewing more for myself and took on custom orders for friends (mostly crazy things to wear to Burning Man). And eventually I started blogging about my sewing which had a profound effect on my life for many reasons. I made sewing friends through the online sewing community who understood my passion/obsession => I was inspired by those friends to try new things => Trying new things inspired me to learn as much as I could about sewing technique => Focusing on technique has made my technical skills grow by leaps and bounds and having friendship, encouragement, and support has made my self confidence grow by leaps and bounds.
So what comes next? Sewing no longer has to be my creative release – it gets to be my everything. In July, we are moving back to the Pacific Northwest to live near my family. In August, we are getting married. September-December we are traveling around the world. And then next year, I am jumping headfirst into SeamstressErin Designs. I have big dreams and I hope to have all of you along for my journey. Behind the scenes I already have several exciting things in the pipeline (several magazine articles and a TV appearance!) and I can’t wait until I get to start sharing them with you. I want to thank each and every reader of my blog for the support you have given me because each of you has been a part of carrying me through this Ph.D. journey and inspiring me into pursuing my dreams.
For my Ph.D. exit talk, I made a second version of Colette’s Ceylon dress, with the same fit adjustments as my first dress. I rarely re-sew a pattern (even when I say I’m going to), especially so soon after sewing it the first time. But I loved how flattering this dress was on me and I thought it was the perfect balance of respectable and fun for giving my Ph.D. exit talk. The fabric is linen from the 70’s that I bought at a flea market in Guernville, CA at the same time as the fabric for my Ava top, Rigel Bomber Jacket, and Thanksgiving Dress.
Since the fabric was a fairly loose weave and this dress is quite form fitting, I underlined the main pieces in a cotton voile (for more info, see When to Underline Your Sewing). I finished all the seams by serging them. The dress is quite heavy on the hanger because of the thickness of the linen and the addition of the underlining, but, fortunately, it still breathes very well and is perfect for spring weather.
I made piping out of some new linen that I purchased to match. I originally bought pre-made piping but it just wasn’t the right color of orange so I caved and made my own. I covered buttons out of the rest of the linen since I couldn’t find enough of the right color buttons at the last minute. I’m so glad that I added the piping and covered the buttons since they help to make the interesting construction of the dress pop while also balancing out the crazy fabric. The dress (and my talk) were a smashing success!